CHAPTER XXI

 

Cricket - Bowling - Football - Quoiting Draughts - Choral Union - The Dramatic Club

Having, by 1860, grown from a mere hamlet of a handful of houses around the Toll into a village of respectable dimensions, it was fit that the young men should have an organised form of recreation.  The young miners found ample sport, after their heavy labours in the mines, in throwing whinstone bullets on the turnpike road, but those whose labours were not so hard had no taste for this game; besides, it was prohibited owing to the danger it created to life and limb.  Cricket therefore became the organised sport of the village, the senior club of which Joseph Syson was the organising and leading spirit.  Its membership chiefly consisted of shopkeepers and clerks, who attained such a state of proficiency as to have the honour of engaging with some of the best clubs of the day.  An admirable pitch was granted them by the Messrs Watson of Bathville, opposite Bathville Store, where during the summer months large crowds turned out in the evening to watch the game.  The opening of the cricket season heralded in the summer, and the day was recognised as a half-holiday, when Bathgate Town Band was generally engaged to play a programme of music, and the side of the field next the road was well taken up with private stands, where light summer refreshment could be had, and those who desired to engage in a game of chance were catered for by the wheel of fortune, roully-poully, and prick the garter fraternity, everything adding to a day of enjoyment.

By-and-bye cricket clubs sprang up in nearly every corner of the village, until the game became too common to excite special attention.

Among the shop-keeping class a desire became evident for a bowling green, and in 1867 a permit was granted by the Laird of Barbauchlaw to make a green on the south boundary of the estate, immediately behind the Monkland Cottage, then occupied by the manager of the Monkland Company's works.

After a great deal of labour and expense, which was partly met by the proceeds of numerous concerts and partly by subscriptions received from local gentlemen, the green was duly opened, when Bathgate Band was accommodated on a special platform and discoursed music during the opening game.  The shop-keepers and clerks deserted the game of cricket in favour of their new fancy, but those young men who were precluded from joining the green because of the prohibitive entrance fee pursued the game of cricket with as much, if not greater, enthusiasm than their seniors, until their name became known far and wide as opponents, worthy to meet.  Gradually the original cricket club died out, and gave place to the "Blue Bell" Club.  This club obtained a pitch at the west side of the bowling green, and played many notable matches, being considered for a time the crack team of the county.  But time, the killer of all organisations, saw the end of the "Blue Bell," too.

For many years cricketing was a lost pastime, until Mr. Wood presented the town with a public park, when the game again found many devotees, who, although not favoured with a private pitch, stand in the front rank of the clubs of the county, having won the County Championship Cup for the present year (1906).

The bowling green claimed all those imbued with a desire for such sport, and cricket was left to the younger generation.

The bowling club in due time began to claim among its members some of the most respectable of the working men, who entered into the game with such whole-heartedness that they soon became the most proficient players in the club, and annually carried off all the best prizes of the season.  The expense of keeping up the green in a large measure caused the original members of the club to encourage the working men to join by lowering the annual subscription, and in due course that class predominated, and became the most worthy to represent the club in all matches where the club's reputation was at stake.

From the institution of the County Bowling Tournament in 1882 for the silver bowl presented by the Earl of Rosebery, Armadale club has been a regular competitor, but it was not until 1903 that they succeeded in bringing home the coveted cup, a feat they repeated the following year, and again the cup finds. a resting-place in Armadale this year, having been lost to Armadale in 1905 by a few points.

Armadale club alone can lay claim to having one member who has represented his club at the County Tournament every year since its institution, namely, William Middleton, who, although a comparatively young man, is the father of the club and the senior skip, and a miner to boot.

The green has been a bit expensive to keep up, more especially when the coal was being worked from under it a quarter of a century ago, but the club can now lay claim to a splendid green and pavilion, and a large membership, mostly drawn from the working classes.  Those who desire to combine profit with pleasure are provided for in the numerous prizes that are offered in competition annually, such as the M.P.'s prize, valued at two guineas; the president's and vice-president's prizes, and the silver cup presented to the club by Mr. Wood of Bathville.

It was not until near the end of the seventies that football as an organised game took hold in Armadale.  The game was beginning to create attention in the big centres when the athletic youths of Armadale began to practise the game, and at last formed themselves into a club in 1879.  Clubs were rapidly springing up all over the county, and friendly matches between neighbouring teams became popular until the game claimed greater attention from a spectator's point of view than any-other sport hitherto practised.

Taking the lead from the Scottish Amateur Football Association, the clubs of the county formed themselves into a County Association, and obtained a silver cup from the Earl of Rosebery to be played for annually.  Armadale team became one of the most prominent in the County Association, and had the honour of winning the Rosebery Cup on several occasions.  The East of Scotland Association found Armadale team keen contestants when they carried off the King Cup and played the final for the Edinburgh Shield.  The rivalry between Durhamtown Rangers, Bo'ness, and Armadale during the eighties was exceedingly keen, and a .meeting between Armadale and Durhamtown Rangers or Bo'ness was sure to bring a large number of spectators to witness the game.  To be allowed a position in the match team, one had to work hard to prove oneself worthy, as there were many candidates anxious and willing to play and pay their share of the expenses.  Competition became so great that many clubs, in order to win a cup, were known to pay members to play for them from other clubs, against the rules of the association.  Although it was known that such a thing was taking place, it was done in such a way as to make it impossible to prove, and so at the end professionalism was recognised, and clubs were allowed to pay their members.  Armadale, as .soon as it produced a player above the average, was sure to lose him because of some other club being able and willing to pay for his services, and so, after the introduction of professionalism, Armadale club lost a large amount of its enthusiasm.  From having a large number of enthusiastic players to choose from, the circumstances changed to the committee having to search high and low to muster sufficient to fill the positions on the occasion of a match, until no committee could be found to work the business.  Armadale thereupon ceased to be represented by a senior team, but the number of junior and juvenile clubs that have existed from time to time in Armadale are beyond reckoning.

Quoiting at long distance - 21 yards - for many years claimed a large number of devotees, when the Armadale Inn and the Star Inn each provided a green on which the game could be played with every freedom.  Those who joined in this game wore strong, hard-working men, and as a club there were few found willing to contest their superiority.

Eighteen and ten yards pitches found a large number of the youths of the town practising the game every afternoon, until they became, as mere lads, the champions of the country, the single-handed honour to that title having been won with a cup by James Easton, better known by his sobriquet, "The Bear".  James Menzies, also as a lad, was backed against all comers until he gained such a reputation that few would meet him on level conditions.  For a number of years quoiting has been discouraged for want of a proper pitch, notwithstanding the large number anxious to follow the game.  But last year, a club being formed, a piece of ground for a pitch was obtained at the east end of the town, which has been put into order and fenced off.  A County Quoiting Association has been formed, and a silver cup obtained from Mr. Ure, M.P. for the county, for annual competition, so that quoiting is again to be revived.

In the spring of 1874 a large number of the young men took a fancy to become members of the Volunteer force, and joined C Company of the 8th Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Scots, which company had its headquarters then at Torphichen.  (The company was first raised in Bathgate, in the spring of 1864, but was removed to Torphichen towards the close of the same year.)

Gradually the Armadale contingent grew in numbers, and the Torphichen members grew less until 1881, when the headquarters of the company were transferred: to Armadale.  Captain M'Nair, of Torphichen, who was for many years in command of the company, shortly afterwards resigned with the honorary rank of major, and was succeeded in turn by James Vernon Brown, J.A. Stewart, Robert M'Kill, Geo. Jeffrey, and Dr Anderson.  Dr Anderson, who was surgeon-major of the company before taking over the command, retired in the month of April, 1906, after having been raised to the honorary rank of major in November, 1905, and the command of the company devolved upon Lieutenant J.R. M'Gregor.

Volunteering has continued to claim a large portion of the youths of Armadale, who have delighted themselves in military manoeuvres, and to some extent have excelled as marksmen at the rifle range.  During the South African War the company contributed its quota to the fighting forces of the nation, and suffered the loss of one of its members in Pte. Adam Williamson, who died at Middleburg, in the Transvaal, of enteric fever, on the 4th March, 1900, his grave being marked by a stone erected by the officers of his company.

Indoor pastimes have been numerous in Armadale of late.  The Draughts Clubs have at no time shown sufficient staying power to carry them on to great victory, although among the knights of the board there are a few skilled members hard to defeat.

For long Armadale had the credit of owning several splendid church choirs, but it was not until September, 1894, that a Choral Union was formed.  This society set out with the aim of cultivating in the public a taste for high-class music, and have continued annually to provide the music-loving people or the district with a recital of one or other of the masterpieces of the great music masters' works.  After a few years Armadale and Bathgate Choral Unions massed together to give a joint production, which has since proved a great success from a productive point of view, but barely a financial success.

The long winter nights hanging heavily on the hands of a few of the most lively of the young men who had a desire for some cheery employment, they set to the study of a dramatic sketch at the beginning of the winter of 1902, with a view to producing it at one of the many social meetings held during the winter months.  The sketch party was a great success, and the following year they added to their repertoire and gave a public entertainment, and devoted the profits to charity.  Carried away with their success, the party gave other two entertainments, one at Blackburn and one at Whitburn, when the expenses outweighed the receipts.  In 1904 the party formed themselves into "The Armadale Dramatic Club," and took up the study of "Rob Roy", and played six nights to large houses in the Town Hall.  The following year "Jeanie Deans" proved equally successful, the club finishing the year with two sets of scenery and a deposit in the bank to guard against failure.  The originators mostly withdrew from the club which next produced "The Shaughraun."  To those who love to study the drama, the pastime is a most delightful one, and so far as the inhabitants have shown they are anxious to encourage their own talent.

 

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